On Friday night the Lakers went in to Phoenix, one of the league’s better home teams, and played excellent much improved basketball, with all five starters scoring at least 15 points for the first time since the 03-04 season. Since the game was on Friday, I’m sure you’ve already consumed enough information about the Phoenix game, but I do have a couple of tidbits from the game:
– If you haven’t already, please check out Silver Screen and Roll’s running diary of the game. It gives you a great account of all of the events that happened, and it’s absolutely hilarious.
– Also, reader Joel B inquired about Pau Gasol’s free throw shooting against some of the better teams in the league. I took the liberty of crunching the numbers against the best eight teams in the league. His free throw percentage did fall, but only from 79.35 to 79.07 percent. Also, he gets to the line a bit less, too, dropping from 3.74 trips to the line on the season to 3.58 per game against seven of the other top eight teams in the league.
Here are some other links on Lakers news in bulleted form.
– From ESPN.com: Having survived the three-game lull with two wins against Toronto and Phoenix, Artest wants the Lakers to do some streaking of their own. “We just want to win every game and hopefully just win out,” Artest said. “That would be the main goal, just not to lose anymore.” Wouldn’t that be something? Eighteen straight wins to end the season would be just like the last Lakers team to accomplish a championship repeat. The 2000-01 squad won its last eight games of the regular season and started the postseason on an additional 11-0 spurt to extend its winning streak in the time when winning really matters to 19 games.
– From NBA MVP: Kobe Bryant is playing at a high level but not the best we have seen if his career. He’s reached the peak of his career, I know you have heard it numerous time and the Lakers have not played consistent basketball compared to last season. Kobe missed 5 games due to several injures which hurt his campaign. He’s not out of the race yet, and the Lakers are still within striking distance for the best record in the NBA to close out the season. Kobe can compete and continue to dominate scoring the basketball but he isn’t the Kobe we are accustomed to seeing this late in the season.
– From the Los Angeles Times Lakers Blog: As he approached the small gathering of reporters following Sunday’s practice in El Segundo, Lakers forward Pau Gasol let out a smile. There’s not a better feeling knowing your Crest-kid friendly teeth no longer have braces, a two-and-a-half year venture that ended Thursday morning when they were removed just before the team’s trip to Phoenix. “Hopefully I don’t get popped in the mouth and lose a couple of teeth,” Gasol joked. A reporter had an immediate comeback, suggesting that may happen since he’s been throwing elbows lately, most notably his hard foul in the Lakers’ 102-96 victory Friday against the Phoenix Suns. In that game, Gasol made a hard foul with 5:06 remaining in the fourth quarter on Phoenix backup center Louis Amundson across his face after he received a pass from guard Steve Nash inside. Suns Coach Alvin Gentry ran to the mid-court line and immediately told officials they should’ve given Gasol a flagrant foul. Instead, they ejected Gentry, who had to be restrained from his coaching staff and Phoenix guard Jason Richardson.
– From Land O’ Lakers: Friday, in detailing the shortcomings of the Lakers on the offensive side of the ball over the season’s first 65 games, I noted they still had the time and talent to turn things around. And while victories over the Raptors Tuesday night and Phoenix on Friday weren’t exactly dominant (though in regards to the Suns game, you won’t find me in the crowd complaining about any missing style points), they certainly marked steps in the right direction when it comes to scoring. Consecutive games with outputs ahead not only of this year’s 106 points per 100 possessions, but also last year’s mark of 109.8 (all numbers via HoopData.com). Granted, neither opponent qualifies as a defensive juggernaut (or “juggerprettygood” for that matter), but beggars can’t be choosers. It’s a positive sign. Moreover, the Lakers will have a chance to continue finding their proverbial flow over their next four games, all against some of the league’s weakest sisters: At Golden State and Sacramento, then Minnesota and Washington at home.
– From Yahoo Sports: Privately, people wonder: How many more passes does Kobe Bryant give Pau Gasol(notes) for speaking so boldly about him? How long until Bryant’s public and private reprisal comes with a ferocity that could bring a 7-footer to his knees? All season, Gasol has been a relentlessly consistent, if not passively aggressive, critic of the franchise star’s shooting habits, of an offense that doesn’t deliver him the ball with the frequency that he wants. Whatever the reasons, Gasol has been emboldened to speak his mind. Whatever the odds, Bryant has bit his lip and let it go. “I believe in what I believe,” Gasol said. Hours before Friday night’s victory over the Phoenix Suns, chatting on a chair inside U.S. Airways Center, Bryant let out a laugh and insisted there will be no public rebuttals. “I’m not touching that,” Bryant said with a smile and shrug.
– From Basket Blog: After stopping a four-game road losing streak with a Friday night victory in Phoenix, the Lakers will look to build a streak in the other column when they head to Northern California for Monday-Tuesday road clashes with Golden State and Sacramento. On paper, the Warriors (18-47) and Kings (22-44) are among the league’s worst teams, the Lakers having already beaten the Kings twice and Warriors thrice. But both wins against Sacramento came down to the wire, first a 112-103 overtime victory in the state capital on Dec. 26 and second a 109-108 buzzer-beating win courtesy of Kobe Bryant’s three-pointer in front of the Kings’ bench. The victories came easier against Golden State (a total of 49 points, in fact), but the Warriors have played better at home of late, taking Portland down to the wire before a late loss on Thursday and defeating Toronto on Saturday.
– From Warriors World: Quick Hits with Rey & Peter of TheNoLookPass.com Is Pau Gasol now the best player on the Lakers? Ha ha. Is this a trick question? Kobe Bryant still makes the Lakers go but they’re obviously both important to the team with Kobe being the perimeter presence and Gasol being the inside man. Pau is such a flower, though. I would like to see him toughen up and be physical on the inside… and I would like to see him jam the ball down someone’s throat. Gasol will never be a bruiser but he wasn’t scared of anything last year. This year, he’s reverted back to that ’soft’ form. And if I call Pau Gasol a flower, he’s far from being the best player of the team. Kobe continues to be nails in clutch situations, what do you think makes him so special in those particular situations? Kobe has nerves of steel. He lives for those moments and wants to take responsibility for that shot. Win or lose, it’s on him and he will take the burden. The Lakers have been in this situation many times and we all know that the four other Lakers are looking for him to take that shot. #24 will take the pressure off his teammates. Basically, he’s fearless. And while it’s thrilling to see all those game-winners, the Lakers really shouldn’t be in that situation many times in the first place.